Exclusive: First GSA in India Speaks to Feminist Teacher, Ileana Jiménez

Students from Breaking Barriers, India's first student-led campaign to address LGBT issues in schools (photo courtesy: Shivanee Sen).

Students from Breaking Barriers, India’s first student-led campaign to address LGBT issues in schools marching in the Delhi Pride Parade in November 2013 (photo courtesy: Shivanee Sen).

“I’m trying to build a culture of compassion, understanding, and of service. I’m trying to build a culture of questioning the status quo.”

Inspiring words by Shivanee Sen, a young teacher I recently met at the Tagore International School in Delhi, where Sen is mentoring the first student-led campaign in India to address LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex) issues. In the U.S., Sen’s student group would be called a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), but in India, it’s more like a revolution.

In just a little under six months, Sen has mobilized an energetic group of over 50 students to address issues of gender and sexuality in education and politics. What they have done in a short amount of time is more than what most established GSA’s in the U.S. do in years.

Called Breaking Barriers, Sen started her groundbreaking group during a conversation with her high school students about gender. Her initial goal was to inspire students to care about intersex individuals as well as the hijras, a community of transgender women, who are marginalized both socially and economically. What started as a discussion topic has turned into a national campaign that has gained the attention of the Indian media across the country.

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Reflection on GLSEN/UNESCO Convening on Global Safe Schools for LGBT Youth

During the World Congress on Comparative Education in Buenos Aires, I presented my Fulbright research on LGBT youth in Mexico City's schools (photo: Steven Toledo/GLSEN).

During the World Congress on Comparative Education in Buenos Aires, I presented my Fulbright research on LGBT youth in Mexico City’s schools (photo: Steven Toledo/GLSEN).

Last month, I had the honor of attending a convening in Buenos Aires hosted by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) and UNESCO to launch a global network of activists and researchers to support LGBT youth in schools. Our daylong meeting created the foundation of a strategic plan for providing LGBT students and their teachers the resources, research, and advocacy they need to create safe schools for all.

Surrounded by advocates and scholars from over 20 countries, I learned how much global queer groups care about teachers and the work we do in supporting LGBT students. From Brazil to China to Slovenia and South Africa, the diverse contexts that students and teachers learn and teach in are being accounted for in the current research and activism of the global safe schools movement.

As the only teacher-researcher at the convening, I came knowing that my voice as a practicing educator was one that is rarely heard in these urgent conversations. I had been selected to join the convening due to my Distinguished Fulbright research on LGBT youth in Mexico, where I had interviewed queer students in high schools about their experience of bullying and harassment, coming out and relationships, counseling and curricular inclusion.

Following the convening, our cohort presented at the XV World Congress on Comparative Education, also held in Buenos Aires, where we each presented our cutting edge research on the latest trends in supporting LGBT students in schools globally. Continue reading